Kennedy: Toymakers scramble to meet pandemic demand

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I was happy to see retailers’ websites showing they still had board games and puzzles available this week for holiday gift-giving.

Since we sure seem headed in the direction of new stay-at-home orders from rising COVID-19 infections, I remembered that a 2,000-piece puzzle from two Christmases ago was a big hit at Daughter No. 2’s house in the early days of the pandemic.

But I had to wonder whether games and puzzles might reprise their roles as hot commodities with more people homebound.

After all, they already were in the toy industry’s top three “supercategory” performers between January and September, according to market researcher NPD Group. Sales, at some $1.5 billion, were up 42 percent from the same period in 2019, NPD stated in a late-October report.

“The pandemic clearly had a positive impact on toy sales in Q2 and Q3,” Juli Lennett, the firm’s vice president and toy industry analyst, said of the second and third quarters, citing families’ embrace of toys “for entertainment, distraction and joy” in the face of shutdowns and uncertainty.

Meantime, pandemic demand had toy companies scrambling, judging from the comments on recent third-quarter conference calls from the CEOs of Mattel and Hasbro, the two big U.S. toy players. And the scrambling appears to be continuing.

“[W]e are chasing extraordinary growth in demand,” said Ynon Kreiz of Mattel, famous for its Barbie franchise but also ranked No. 1 in games and puzzles in the U.S. by NPD for the card game Uno.

While Kreiz told analysts that Mattel expected to meet its gross sales guidance for the year, “we cannot be certain we will fully meet the surge in consumer demand,” despite working hard with retail partners.

“[R]etail inventories are still down in absolute dollars and down significantly in weeks of supply,” he said in response to an analyst question. Parents, though, still plan to spend the same or more on holiday toy purchases, Kreiz added.

At Hasbro, producer of the perennially popular Monopoly board game, the games category suffered some out-of-stocks in the quarter but grew in sales nonetheless, according to CEO Brian Goldner.

“Production at our third-party factories is up and running, and supply is largely in line with demand,” he noted in prepared third-quarter remarks. “Where demand remains above trend, we are working to catch up.”

One analyst asked whether business shutdowns early in the pandemic might have hurt sales in the quarter, but company officials indicated they had sought to have overseas factories designated as “essential” to keep operating.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in catching up,” Goldner said, admitting, though, “We’re still behind on the games category, just given the substantial demand that we’re seeing there.”

However, he said, “we expect the holiday season to be a good one.”

I’ll take that as a cue to get online soon to order.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected] .

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